Photographing Corners

There’s something about a photograph of a corner that intrinsically relates to the essence of photography. Although I don’t pretend to know what that essence is, it’s clear to me that it somehow has to do with how we, as subjects, come to understand ourselves as beings. In that sense, it relates to memory and, particularly, to the dynamics of a narrative we construct for ourselves.

Thinking about photographs of corners immediately reminds me of one of Eggleston’s iconic images (reproduced below), but also Tillmans’. While I was doing some reading on the subject(s), I found an article by writer Eira Rojas in which she addresses not only corners, but also the same Eggleston I mentioned before. Although Rojas’ focus is on banality and the apparent superficiality of mundane things (on this topic, I don’t know of anything better to read than Michael Fried’s understanding of Jeff Wall’s staged photographs), my interest has more to do with aesthetic qualities and not with discursive ones. It’s not like they’re two very different things, but the rhetoric of authenticity (which is what’s beneath the eulogy of the amateur photography) verges on insincerity, because it’s goal is to replicate, to reproduce, to attain…

© William Eggleston, ‘Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi)’, 1980.

I can’t photograph corners, so I’m fascinated by those who can. In fact, the only way I can see myself photographing corners was if and when blindfolded. Photography has this magic quality of being the expression of the self, meaning that she presents herself as the medium of the visible, of those who know how to look and understand what they’re seeing, when in fact it is the medium of the invisible. And she’s unforgivable: whenever the photographer lies, she lies. In that sense, she is a very singular medium of expression and, I feel, a beautiful photograph of a corner is particularly related to a certain dynamics in the way the author approaches life and the creative field.

In regards to Eggleston’s photograph, Rojas states it aims at a “snapshot aesthetic”, to which she adds:

Color is obviously the most striking formal aspect of this photo, and color informs it’s content as well, but this picture is remarkable as well for its harmonious composition and visual wit. The photo’s almost monolithic redness is broken into symmetrical portions […] It’s deep symmetry is not just radial, but also horizontal and vertical. The white V shape of the cables on the ceiling, and darker form of the light bulb hanging from its point, echo its negative in the dark cove molding and subtly lighter definition of the corner. 

Corners seem to assure that a tension between negative and positive spaces participates in the composition and maybe that sort of dynamics is what guarantees a given photograph an after life. I don’t like corners in real life, so it’s only fair they’re excluded from my compositions. But, of course, the subject cannot be reduce to a particular situation, for corners have universal value in a narrative. In my personal life, I understand drama awaits behind a corner: not only am I clumsy by nature and have had my share of corner happenings, but also I walk dogs, so one needs to be particularly aware of what awaits after a corner. But the list of problems continues: I also hate doors and am a little claustrophobic, so usually a corner in an enclosed space is a sign of distress.

Having said this, this link between corners and suspense is universal. I imagine a lot of people share these feelings, for usually photographs of corners are precisely that: an indication of anguish, of what’s been unsaid, unrealized or unseen. Just think about any action movie and you’ll see corners everywhere. Whether they’re massive and grey or shinny and blue, their part in the story is not of minor importance; they’re like comas, anticipating the next sigh.

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